In the wake of Donald Trump’s election and immediate overtures toward authoritarianism, many of us have found ourselves unexpectedly grieving the loss of the America we have trusted since childhood. One of those folks came to me with a letter she had felt compelled to write to an estranged friend who was a Trump supporter. After weeks of anguished internal debate, she finally could not bring herself to send it. I thought it perfectly expressed the sadness and anger that divides us now; so I asked if I might share it with our GMD readers. She does not want me to mention her name so let’s just sign her “anyonymous” with a small ‘a’.
“So I have become one of “those” people. You know, the ones who have let the election spill over into their personal lives, someone who has lost a friend because of it, a friend I still care about but with whom I cannot figure out how to continue a relationship. I cherish my friendships. Lucky as I am to have family I genuinely love, there is a difference. Families have to accept you; friends choose to. To me, that is pretty sacred. So how could I let this happen? This was not an “unfriending” on Facebook. This was face to face across a small desk and was very painful for both of us.
We tried to talk. I apologized for withdrawing after November 8th. I could not pretend that all was well, and I thought it might take a few days to get back to normal, which then turned into more than a couple of months. I mean how does this happen? This was a friend, and the election was over and we had always voted differently. Yet, we had always had each others’ backs.
The apology did not go well. During my absence she had had some difficult times and I had not available. And I believe, like me, she valued our friendship. She felt betrayed and angry over my withdrawal. But soon the apology devolved into respective and familiar talking points. We had been in similar territory before over the years, finally pledging to not talk politics. And so the hardest thing to try to explain and answer was what had changed this time, and why I, too, felt betrayed when I had been the one to withdraw.
” What was different,” she asked. “What was different this time?”
And even now I am not sure why I could love before and find it so elusive now. But I think it has to do with choices truly mattering and that maybe I had not been honest before in our relationship by sidestepping them. Politics do matter. And choices and politics have consequences.
For me, the measure of character is how we treat each other, especially those more vulnerable and powerless. In any human interaction, my friend would most certainly treat people with kindness and respect. But she voted for someone who does not, someone who targets the vulnerable and powerless and weak; it is so easy to blame them and cull the herd. It’s what bullies and dictators do.
As one of our greatest writers said, we all bleed when cut. It seems to me that some people judge their blood, their pain more worthy, their hopes more legitimate. And while I do believe in an “illegitimate” president, I don’t believe in an illegitimate human being. And I just can’t get around that, try though I might.
I admit I am a holdout to “let’s look for the positive.” If anyone who has been struggling does well under our new regime, I will be happy for them. But I fear these gains might be made at the cost of our collective soul. Because, kind and caring as my friend is to those around her, her vote supported someone who treats people as throwaways because he just knows they are “ very very bad” people.
She has often talked to me about her belief in personal responsibility, which is important to me, too. And since she made a choice in her vote, I think that brings the responsibility of accepting that there are those in her life who will act or react based on it.
To maintain our relationship I would feel betrayed by having to pretend the things she supported by her vote are acceptable. If I have to not talk politics or discuss my deep feelings and values in order to stay friends, then I have a choice to make, too.
Sadly, I think I have made it.”